Posts Tagged ‘children’

Autism and Wandering – a constant struggle

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I have written before in this space about special needs children, including children with autism. This week I want to turn my attention to one aspect of autism – wandering – and some of the ways parents and schools are trying to keep kids safe. Wandering is something I really had not heard of before, but I’ve since learned that it is a serious danger to children with autism or other cognitive deficits. It is also a major source of stress to parents who are constantly worried about their child wandering off.

All children have a tendency to wander away from their parents at times. When my daughter was two, I lost her at Sports Authority. I thought she was standing right next to me while I was looking at something, then I looked down and she was gone. After a few frantic minutes – and with the quick help of the store employees – we found her all the way on the opposite side of the store looking at balls. She was perfectly fine, but it was terrifying for me.

For reasons that are not well understood, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to wander more than non-autistic children. As reported by the Child Mind Institute and others, a recent study by the Interactive Autism Network has finally tried to quantify what has traditionally been more anecdotal evidence about wandering.

According to the responses from more than 800 parents, roughly 50 percent of children between the ages of 4 and 10 with an ASD wander at some point, four times more than their unaffected siblings. The behavior peaks at 4, almost four times higher than their unaffected siblings, but almost 30 percent of kids with an ASD between the ages of 7 and 10 are still eloping, eight times more than their unaffected brothers and sisters.

Autistic children seem to wander for two basic reasons. One is to find something they like, such as their favorite pond or playground; and one is to get away from something they don’t like such as a stressful school environment. It’s not really running away, at least as that term is usually used to describe a child who decides to leave home because of some real or perceived injustice at home. A majority of parents in the study described their child as happy and focused when they wandered off. It is usually a matter of the child being drawn to something that he or she likes. One child referenced in the Child Mind story had a fascination with exit signs. One day at school, the boy wandered off through the woods toward the highway to find his favorite exit sign. Thankfully, a good Samaritan picked-up the boy and returned him to where he belonged.

The danger for children is very real. While concrete statistics are difficult to come by, drowning seems to be the biggest danger (there are some who believe that autistic children are drawn to water). Children can also wander into traffic. Of course, when any small child wanders alone there is the risk of getting lost or being abducted. To further complicate matters, thirty-five percent of families in the study reported that their child is never or rarely able to communicate basic identifying information such as name, address and phone number. This obviously makes it harder for a wandering child to get back home. Even older or more high-functioning children may – due to their social anxiety – be reluctant to seek out help or cooperate with someone who is trying to intervene.

Wandering represents a challenge to schools because it can be very difficult to monitor a child all day long, especially during class changes and recess. The problem, however, also occurs at home. Wandering occurs not just during the day; night-time wandering is an especially big fear for parents of autistic children. Some children have been known to get up in the middle of the night, undo the deadbolt on the front door, and walk-off into the night. The terror of finding your child gone in the middle of the night is unimaginable. Some parents have installed deadbolts higher up on the doors, some have installed alarms that go off if the door is opened. Some parents have gone so far as to have their children wear tracking devices that send out a signal that can be pin-pointed. While all of these techniques can help, there are no sure-fire methods of preventing wandering. It is a constant worry for parents.

The autism community has taken action by getting the Center for Disease Control’s safety subcommittee to assign a specific medical code for wandering, which will be in conjunction with the diagnosis of ASD. By doing this, it is hoped that doctors will more readily recognize wandering as a legitimate diagnosis that they can address with the parents or other caregivers (the new code applies to adults with ASD as well). The American Academy of Pediatrics is also preparing a fact sheet to educate doctors on the topic so that they can better work with parents to try to reduce the incidence of wandering. The new code may also make it easier for parents to seek reimbursement from their insurance companies for alarms and tracking devices, and it may make it easier for parents to argue to their schools that a one-on-one monitor is needed as part of the child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The new code takes effect in October 2011.

Lori McIlwain, Chairwoman of the National Autism Association, recently discussed how to deal with wandering:

The best overall strategy is a multi-tiered approach, which includes educating the child about safety and dangers using whatever means of communication works, including social stories, language and/or visual prompts. It’s also important that caregivers—and schools—work to understand what is causing, or contributing to, the wandering or bolting behaviors so that any triggers may be addressed or eliminated.

Have any of our readers had any experience with wandering? I’d like to hear your stories as to how you deal with it and how it affects your life.

Related Nash and Associates Links:

Dogs a Huge Help to Special Needs Kids

The Daily Struggle of Raising a Disabled Child

Many Parents Still Believe Vaccines Cause Autism

 

 

Photo courtesy of: Issueswithautism.com

Asthma News: Parents Underestimate Children’s Symptoms, Placebos Effective in Improving Patient’s Subjective Improvement but Not Objective Health

Monday, July 25th, 2011

image from consumerreports.org

A couple of months ago, one of my colleagues, Jon Stefanuca, wrote a post for Eye Opener entitled Four Tips For Getting the Medical Care You Need When You Are Having An Asthma Problem. In that article, he explained the importance of patients proactively knowing and explaining their asthma symptoms to healthcare providers. He focused on some of the key features of asthma and the unique symptoms that each individual may experience. If you have not already read that article, I highly recommend it as a great way to become a better advocate for yourself or someone in your life that suffers from asthma.

Over the last few months, I have been thinking about Jon’s advice in relation to some work I have been doing. It makes good sense and hopefully will help people receive better care when they are having exacerbations of their asthma. However, I was disheartened to read a recent article from Reuters about how frequently parents underestimate their children’s asthma symptoms.

Parents Underestimate Their Children’s Asthma Symptoms

I am always a little leery of studies that are drugmaker-funded, particularly when the study suggests that perhaps more medications are needed to combat a problem. However, taken at face value, this is a pretty frightening idea given how many children now suffer from asthma and how serious a condition it can be for those children and families. The article points to a disconnect between the parents’ description of their child’s asthma and whether the asthma was actually being adequately treated:

While more than seven out of every 10 parents interviewed described their child’s asthma as “mild” or “intermittent,” the disease was adequately treated in only six in 10 kids.

A doctor who was not involved in the study explained it this way:

“Parents are only aware of asthma when the child is more severely ill,” Dr. Gordon Bloomberg…

“Physicians cannot just ask the parent ‘how is your child doing?’ The physician will get a global answer that doesn’t reflect the child’s quality of life,” said Bloomberg, of Washington University in St. Louis.

Poor treatment may influence asthmatic children’s quality of life, as well as that of their families.

In the survey, more than four in 10 parents reported missing work because of their child’s asthma, and similar numbers of parents regularly lost sleep for the same reason.

Children are Better Reporters Than Their Parents of Symptoms

Interestingly, “[t]he study also found children tended to be better than their parents at determining how well their asthma was being treated.” So, clearly, doctors must take the time to discuss the asthma symptoms and treatments not only with parents but also in a sensitive and appropriate way with the children patients themselves in order to receive a better indication of the disease status. The doctors interviewed for the Reuter’s article had different opinions on what this means for asthma treatment:

According to a new report, this suggests parents need more education about asthma medications.

But one expert said more medication is not the be-all and end-all for children.

“The idea of total control…is not where we should be putting our energy,” Dr. Barbara Yawn from Olmstead Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota, told Reuters Health in an email.

Instead of just giving children with stubborn breathing problems more medication, she said better communication is needed to determine how children’s lives are affected, and what it will take to prevent their symptoms.

New Study Shows Receiving Treatment, Even with Placebo, Important for Asthma Patients – But Does not Improve Objective Health

image from 123rf.com

In another recent study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at how asthma patients responded to a medication (bronchodilator), two different types of placebos (fake inhaler or fake acupuncture), or no intervention at all. An objective measure was taken of the patient’s ability to exhale after each intervention (or lack of intervention) and the patient’s own rating of improvement was noted. What was so interesting about this study were the different outcomes between the objective (spirometry) and subjective (patient’s self-reporting) measurements of improvement.

The bronchodilator provided markedly better objective treatment over the placebos or no treatment – a 20% improvement rather than 7% for the placebos or no treatment. However, the subjective measure of improvement found that patients were almost the same, 45-50% improvement, whether the patients received the actual bronchodilator (50%), the placebo inhaler (45%) or the sham acupuncture (46%).  All of which were higher than the 21% improvement reported by those who did not receive intervention.

An article about the study in medicalnewstoday.com explains the outcome this way:

Now a study of asthma patients examining the impact of two different placebo treatments versus standard medical treatment with an albuterol bronchodilator has reached two important conclusions: while placebos had no effect on lung function (one of the key objective measures that physicians depend on in treating asthma patients) when it came to patient-reported outcomes, placebos were equally as effective as albuterol in helping to relieve patients’ discomfort and their self-described asthma symptoms.

The study’s senior author, Ted Kaptchuk, Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School explained it this way in the article:

“It’s clear that for the patient, the ritual of treatment can be very powerful…This study suggests that in addition to active therapies for fixing diseases, the idea of receiving care is a critical component of what patients value in health care. In a climate of patient dissatisfaction, this may be an important lesson.”

However, I wonder if it cannot also be understood another way – which is that patients are likely to feel like their symptoms have been improved after a visit to a doctor, even if objectively their airway is still compromised.

How Should this Impact Asthma Treatment?

So what can be done with this new information? I think that Jon’s advice about patient’s knowing their own symptoms and expressing them clearly to their doctors is critical. I also agree completely with his advice that patients should ask for an objective measure of their respiratory improvement before leaving a health care facility. These two steps seem key to making sure that patients objective health is being improved – not just their subjective opinion of improvement. Finally, I think that it is critical that parents act as the best advocates possible for their children – which may include making sure that the children are heard on their own symptoms since parents are not the most reliable reporters.

What do you think? Are there other tips for asthma patients and their parents out there? How do respond to these new studies?

Related Videos:

Videos about Asthma

Related Articles:

Four Tips For Getting the Medical Care You Need When You Are Having An Asthma Problem

Asthma – How to Protect Your Child When the Steroid Inhaler Fails

Use Of Acetaminophen In Pregnancy Associated With Increased Asthma Symptoms In Children

Service dogs in school — a fresh look

Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Service Dog and Boy

service dogs

A while back I wrote a piece on the topic of service dogs for kids and mentioned the use of service dogs in schools. A regular reader of our blog then wrote in with a number of comments and questions about the propriety of dogs in schools. To help answer her questions, I recently spoke with Nancy Fierer, who is the Director at Susquehanna Service Dogs in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which is an organization that trains and places service dogs. Susquehanna is the organization that placed two of the dogs mentioned in this NPR story.

The ADA and dogs in school

I also did a little more research on the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and its impact on the issue. The ADA requires that all public facilities allow a disabled person and his or her service dog (not pets) to enter the premises just the same as a non-disabled person. So is a school considered a public facility? It’s an interesting question. On the one hand it is accessible to the public in the sense that parents and students can freely enter a school. However, if you’re not the parent of a child at the school, can you just walk into a school and roam the halls like you might roam around a mall? I think if you tried that, you would get stopped pretty quickly and asked to leave if you had no valid business there. However, the law appears to be settled that schools are considered public facilities at least for those areas that are open to the public such as administrative offices, gymnasiums during sporting events, and auditoriums during public events. Therefore, schools must be accessible to service dogs in these public areas. For class rooms, however, it’s not so clear. While the law appears to favor allowing service dogs in class rooms, it is being decided on a case-by-case basis because there are other considerations as well – the age of the child, the disability at issue, the ability to control the dog, etc.

How much school assistance is necessary?

I have to admit that when I first wrote on this topic, I had envisioned that the dog and child were a self-contained unit that required little in the way of adult assistance. Ms. Fierer indicated that that is usually not the case. Depending on the age of the child and the level of disability, the child may be able to care for the dog independently. However, in most instances an adult (teacher’s aide or nurse perhaps) is required to pitch in with help giving the dog water and taking it out for bathroom breaks. Ms. Fierer indicated that the dog does need water breaks during the day (feeding can be done at home before and after school). This is usually accomplished by keeping a water bowl in a nearby room – perhaps a nurse’s office or a counselor’s office. Several times a day, either the child (if he/she is old enough) or an adult can take the dog for a drink. The same is true for bathroom breaks (pee only; No. 2 is usually taken care of at home). Again, service dogs do require assistance from the school but from what Ms. Fierer told me, the disruption is fairly minimal and can be worked out with proper planning.

Controlling a service dog

A larger issue is the child’s ability to control the dog. Even though service dogs are highly trained, the owner (in this case a child) must still be able to control the dog before being permitted to take a dog into school. These include such basic commands as making the dog sit, stay, come, leave it, and walk on loose leash. These are some of the common commands that all service dogs must know. In addition, a service dog also receives additional training in a particular disability and learns specific commands unique to that disability, e.g., retrieving specific items, pulling a wheelchair, responding to seizures, search and rescue. These commands must be mastered as well. For example, if an autistic child is in need of the dog to put its head in the child’s lap to help calm him/her down, the child (or a trained adult) has to be able to give the dog that command. If the child cannot give that command to the dog, then it undermines the usefulness of the dog in school.

Because of the demands that service dogs place on the child, very young children usually do not take dogs to school unescorted. Ms. Fierer said she would be surprised to see a six-year-old, for example, taking a dog to school alone. Older children can, with proper training, be permitted to take a dog to school alone. To ensure that the child is capable of caring for the dog, Susquehanna utilizes the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test. This test requires the owner and the dog to perform multiple tests in a variety of settings to ensure that the dog is well-trained and that the owner can properly control the dog. For children, Ms. Fierer indicated that the testing is usually administered with the parent and child because she uses the team approach – the parent, child and dog are a team. For a child taking the dog to school, however, the parent is usually not there so the child must be able to control the dog independently. Only when a child is adept at controlling the dog should the child be permitted to take the dog to school. Even then, parents have to work closely with the child’s teacher and other school staff to coordinate the details of how the dog will be cared for.

Other concerns

Our reader also asked questions about whether service dogs are a distraction in school and whether they can pose a danger to other children. After talking to Ms. Fierer, it’s my opinion that these are not major concerns. As for being a distraction, Ms. Fierer said that is usually not the case. Service dogs are generally introduced into the school gradually, starting with maybe a half-hour per day and building from there. The children get accustomed to the dog and the novelty soon wears off. Also, the other children need to be educated that this is a service dog and not a pet to be played with. Children can easily learn this lesson. As for being a danger to other children, Ms. Fierer said she has never heard of a dangerous incident happening at school such as a dog biting a child. These dogs are amazingly well-trained and the trainers allow zero tolerance for aggressive behavior. If a dog shows any aggression, that dog does not make the cut for being a service dog. Therefore, I don’t believe this concern is a valid reason for denying a child a service dog.

Training a service dog

In terms of the actual training given to the dogs, Ms. Fierer said that when a puppy is eight weeks old, it starts living with a dedicated puppy handler who is responsible for teaching the dog basic manners.  This time includes classes at Susquehanna twice per month.  This arrangement goes on till the dog is 18 months old, at which time the dog receives about six months of intense training.  About 50-60 percent of training is the same for all service dogs. The rest is devoted to the unique needs of each disability. Before a dog is placed, Susquehanna spends about 2 and ½ weeks training the family that is receiving the dog. Even after placement, Susquehanna continues to do follow-up training – at first on a weekly basis and then gradually declining over the next six months. It even does annual re-testing.

I hope this follow-up addresses our readers’ concerns. Ms. Fierer emphasized that service dogs are not the solution for every child. Susquehanna actually does therapy sessions with families before even agreeing to place a dog to ensure that the dog and the family are a good fit. She indicated that it is a big responsibility to own a service dog and it is not a decision that is made lightly by the dog trainers. However, for the right child and the right family, a service dog can be an amazing asset.

Related Nash and Associates Links:

Service Dogs for Kids

 

photo from servicedogtraining.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skin Cancer Prevention: The Dangers of Tanning Beds

Friday, July 1st, 2011

 

Image from hometanningbed.com

In my last two posts, I have examined the various types of skin cancer, their prevalence and survivability rates, and some prevention methods. Today, I will focus on another major risk factor for skin cancer. The use of tanning beds or “indoor tanning” greatly increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer. It is a completely voluntary exposure to UV radiation, and yet many people choose to expose themselves despite all of the risks.

Known Dangers of Tanning Beds

Here are just a few statistics about indoor tanning from the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  • “Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is a proven human carcinogen. Currently tanning beds are regulated by the FDA as Class I medical devices, the same designation given elastic bandages and tongue depressors.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an affiliate of the World Health Organization, includes ultraviolet (UV) tanning devices in its Group 1, a list of the most dangerous cancer-causing substances. Group 1 also includes agents such as plutonium, cigarettes, and solar UV radiation.
  • Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual UVA dose compared to the dose they receive from sun exposure.
  • Ten minutes in a sunbed matches the cancer-causing effects of 10 minutes in the Mediterranean summer sun.
  • Nearly 30 million people tan indoors in the U.S. every year; 2.3 million of them are teens.
  • On an average day, more than one million Americans use tanning salons.
  • Seventy-one percent of tanning salon patrons are girls and women aged 16-29.
  • Indoor ultraviolet (UV) tanners are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.
  • People who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma.
  • The indoor tanning industry has an annual estimated revenue of $5 billion.”

Internal references omitted

 

Horrifically, it is mainly young people choosing to use these devices despite the greatly increased risk of melanoma and other skin cancers. Given the enormous financial incentive to service young people – the industry cannot be expected to regulate itself. If they can make $5 billion dollars a year in revenue with a largely young female population, why would they stop? (Aside from morality of course…)

How to Protect the Skin – Even if You Don’t Want To

From a social perspective, there need to be some changes to the value our society places on certain skin color and beauty. This is outside of the realm of this post – but what a shame that in this century, men and woman would still rather expose themselves to harmful radiation than live life with their natural coloring (or lack thereof).

From an education perspective, I think that public awareness and an increased focus on education must continue to be one prong to battle this problem. However, clearly warnings alone are not enough. This is exemplified by a recent news story about a now 23-year-old woman who visited tanning salons three to five times a week starting when she was 16 years old.  This young woman, who despite knowing the risks of tanning continued to use tanning beds until 2009, had to endure surgeries, drug therapies and over a year of painful treatment at the age of twenty-one for the advanced melanoma that had spread to her lymph nodes. Luckily, she is now cancer-free, but living with a greatly increased risk of developing another cancer. This is a cautionary tale, but it is also an example of the invincibility thinking of many young people that makes the risks seem lower than they really are to using tanning beds.

Legal Options – Regulation

So what remains? The tanning salon industry has a financial disincentive towards preventing skin cancers, the young patrons of these establishments may not understand the risks and consequences, yet the individuals and society are going to pay the price of devastating illness, high cost medical treatments and people’s lives if the current use of tanning beds continues. That is where the legal side of this post enters. There are a number of states that have started to regulate the use of these tanning beds – at least for minors. Most states do not regulate these very heavily. The National Conference of State Legislatures has compiled regulations from many states on their website. There are a combination of approaches which generally include either banning the use of tanning beds by very young children and teens (typically under 14 or 16 – but few states have an outright ban) and/or requiring parental consent for the use by children below a certain age (typically 18, occasionally 16). Some of these consent statutes require the parent to be present (in person) to provide consent. Others allow written consent or require the parent to be present only one time in the year. Do you think that these statutes are sufficient? Should the requirements involve vivid pictural warnings like the new requirements for cigarrettes?

In Maryland, Howard County is a leader in regulating this industry. In Howard County, minors under 18 years of age are not permitted to use tanning devices without a doctor’s note stating a medical reason and allowed frequency.  These rules are not subject to a parent’s consent. Many states legislators have proposed tougher legislation in the past few years to increase the regulations on this industry across the country, but few have been successful.

Your Thoughts?

What do you think should happen with the tanning industry? Do you think that there should be an outright ban for any minors using these devises? What about adults? There are still lots of tanning customers who are young adults who are over 18. What can be done to protect them from the increased risks of skin cancer? Is public education sufficient? Could it be done better?

Related Posts:

Skin Cancer: Types, Causes and How to Protect Yourself

Skin Cancer Prevention: Will New FDA Rules Help?

Skin Cancer Videos

 

Skin Cancer Prevention: Will new FDA Rules Help?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

In yesterday’s post, I examined the various types of skin cancer and their prevalence in the US. Melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer and its incidence is on the rise. In that post, I examined some of the ways to protect yourself from the types of UV radiation that cause skin damage and cancer. One of these protection methods is the use of sunscreen. Sunscreen matters because the data is clear that sun exposure is what is causing deadly skin cancers:

  • About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
  • The vast majority of mutations found in melanoma are caused by ultraviolet radiation.
  • About 65 percent of melanoma cases can be attributed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
  • One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
  • A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns at any age.

Statistics from the Skin Cancer Foundation website

However, up until now, there has been very little regulation of the marketing of different sunscreens. It has been very difficult for the American public to know whether the sunscreen they were choosing was going to be effective in protecting them from both UVA and UVB rays.  There was also little way to know how much protection you were really receiving and whether the claims like “waterproof” and “sunblock” were just marketing or really claims with research behind them. Why does this matter? Check out this video from the FDA:

How the New FDA Rules Will Help

Well, some of this is going to change next summer. Last week, the FDA announced new regulations of sunscreen. If sunscreens meet the new legal standards, they can use certain marketing phrases so that consumers know what level of protection will be provided by the product. For example, “[u]nder the new labeling, sunscreens labeled as both Broad Spectrum and SPF 15 (or higher), if used regularly, as directed, and in combination with other sun protection measures will help prevent sunburn, reduce the risk of skin cancer, and reduce the risk of early skin aging.”

Image from FDA.gov

Image from FDA.gov

The FDA explains the impact of the new regulations with the following:

  • Broad Spectrum designation. Sunscreens that pass FDA’s broad spectrum test procedure, which measures a product’s UVA protection relative to its UVB protection, may be labeled as “Broad Spectrum SPF [value]” on the front label. For Broad Spectrum sunscreens, SPF values also indicate the amount or magnitude of overall protection. Broad Spectrum SPF products with SPF values higher than 15 provide greater protection and may claim additional uses, as described in the next bullet.
  • Use claims. Only Broad Spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures. Non-Broad Spectrum sunscreens and Broad Spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value between 2 and 14 can only claim to help prevent sunburn.
  • “Waterproof, “sweatproof” or “sunblock” claims. Manufacturers cannot label sunscreens as “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” or identify their products as “sunblocks,” because these claims overstate their effectiveness. Sunscreens also cannot claim to provide sun protection for more than 2 hours without reapplication or to provide protection immediately after application (for example– “instant protection”) without submitting data to support these claims and obtaining FDA approval.
  • Water resistance claims. Water resistance claims on the front label must indicate whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating, based on standard testing. Sunscreens that are not water resistant must include a direction instructing consumers to use a water resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.
  • Drug Facts. All sunscreens must include standard “Drug Facts” information on the back and/or side of the container.

Information from the FDA

So what does this all mean? It means that if you want a sunscreen that will provide protection against both UVA and UVB, you need to choose one that says “broad spectrum” AND has a minimum SPF of 15. You also need to look for a time limit on the water resistance of the sunscreen. In the future, other regulations may take effect, including limiting the SPF claims to 50 since there is no evidence that a higher SPF offers greater protection. The impact of the current rules should be an easier way for consumers to know that they are getting the greatest possible protection from the sunscreen they buy.

The New Regulations Do Not Address the Safety of Ingredients

So, while the new sunscreens will make it clearer whether the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays and how long the sunscreen will remain water resistant, the regulations do not regulate the ingredients that comprise the sunscreens. The ingredients in the sunscreens have not been tested for safety. Dr. Len has written a blog on the American Cancer Society website that touches on this issue:

Many of the ingredients of sunscreens have been used for years, however the FDA acknowledged today that they have not been tested for safety using modern techniques. They did emphasize that the benefits of sunscreens containing these ingredients far outweigh the risks given their longstanding safety profile.

Nanoparticles present in sunscreen-especially those containing zinc and titanium oxides-have been another source of concern.  It is the use of “nanotechnology” that has made these effective sunscreens more acceptable since they don’t leave you with that white, pasty look that inhibited their use in the past.

Although it appeared during a news conference this morning that the FDA is satisfied at this time that products containing nanoparticles such as zinc and titanium oxides are safe when used as directed based on scientific evidence, another representative seemed a bit more cautious in his comments at second briefing held a couple of hours later by stating that nanoparticles are still being evaluated for safety.

The FDA did say they will continue to examine the science and the data regarding sunscreen ingredients, and will advise consumers promptly should they find evidence to the contrary regarding their safety profile.

One interesting outcome of the FDA’s announcement was their statement that they will be seeking further information from manufacturers and others on the safety and effectiveness of aerosol sunscreens.  The FDA apparently is concerned about inhalation risks as well as effectiveness in real-life use.  This is a sunscreen delivery method that many of us (including me) use often because of ease and convenience, and the questions regarding safety and effectiveness are certain to get some notice.

As more and more people are educated and aware of the risks of skin cancer, the use of sunscreens will presumably rise. Does it worry you that the new regulations deal more with marketing issues and confirming that the sunscreens do work effectively to minimize exposure to UVA and UVB rays than with the safety of the ingredients that provide that protection? Do you agree that since the risk of skin cancer outweighs the potential risks caused by the ingredients?

Personally, I use sunscreen and put it on my children daily. However, I also go out of the way to try to use ones that seem to have the “safest” record in terms of the chemicals involved. I also choose to use sun-shirts and other protective clothing as much as possible when at the pool or beach to minimize the amount skin I have to cover with sunscreen. Okay – honestly – it is also to minimize the amount of sunscreen smearing that I have to do every day. In order to work effectively, you are really supposed to use a lot of sunscreen all over exposed skin. As much as possible, we try to spend out time outside during the early morning and late afternoon/evening to minimize the direct exposure.

What steps do you take to protect yourself from sun exposure? What about the idea that a certain amount of sun exposure is good for Vitamin D production? What about the new FDA regulations, do they may sense? Will you shop for sunscreen differently?

Related Posts:

Skin Cancer: Types, Causes and How to Protect Yourself

UPDATE: Window Blinds: Why are children still dying?

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

UPDATE – October 20, 2011:

A few months ago, this blog highlighted the issue of dangerous window treatments. In the original article, I discussed how difficult it was for parents to know whether the window treatments in their home were safe and the relatively small cost it would take for manufacturers to make kids safer. So the unfortunate reality is that despite the ongoing safety concerns and injuries and even deaths due to window blind cords, manufacturers persist in making and selling dangerous blinds and shades that have cords that are accessible to children. This week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced another recall of so-called Roman shades and roll-up blinds. These products have cords that allow a child to become strangled if they get their neck caught between the cord and the fabric or if the child accidentally wraps the cord around their neck. While the recall says that injuries have not yet been reported based on this product, these products are of the same type as many where injuries and deaths have been previously reported. It leaves me to wonder at what point the government or some external force will provide enough pressure on the manufacturers to stop creating and marketing dangerous blinds to the public? As my original post explained the cost savings in manufacturing blinds this way is not extreme, but the costs are huge to families when children are hurt. Furthermore, these products are being sold, at least in this case, at discount stores to families who are likely buying what blinds they can afford without any knowledge of the potential danger.

 

Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/stvcr/

For several years, there have been periodic news reports about major recalls involving window blinds. Window blind manufacturers have also provided a number of different types of safety elements on their blinds. These have included breakaway plastic pieces on the bottoms of the cords and other sorts of “safer” ways to deal with the cords involved in the use of the blinds. How many of you believed that these recalls and changes meant that new blinds or blinds that had not been subject to any recalls were safe?

As a parent, I thought that I was fairly up-to-date about this issue.  I had replaced all of the Roman style blinds in one room in my home with cordless blinds before my daughter was born. I had purchased another type of cordless blind system for the playroom. In the one remaining area with older style blinds, I had carefully checked to make sure that the cords were not tied into a loop and that they were cleated-up high so that no additional cord was accessible at child-height. Then, I basically went on living my life without thinking too much more about it.

Well, a recent New York Times article changed that for me. The article details the injuries and deaths of several children. These children were all severely injured or killed by window blind cords. The disturbing part to me, however, was that many of the parents had taken what I would have considered to be major precautions. They had baby-proofed their homes. They had tied-up the extra cords. Yet still, the boys and girls mentioned were hurt or killed by either the interior cords of the blinds and/or by climbing up and getting tangled in the supposedly secured/safe blind cords.

What a disturbing wake-up call. I certainly walked around my house last night with a different idea of child safety. But, as I mentioned, I know that a cordless type of blind exists.  So, why is this not the safety standard?

The New York Times article explains:

Now, prodded by a Missouri mother whose daughter was strangled in a window blind, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has asked manufacturers to devise a way to eliminate the risks from window cords or perhaps face mandatory regulations. Critics of the industry complain that manufacturers have dragged their feet on addressing safety hazards for decades, making minor tweaks or putting the onus on parents to shorten cords or buy tie-down devices. Until recently, regulators have done little to crack down, they say.

In response to the commission’s latest push, the industry, working with a task force of regulators and consumer advocates, says it will come up with a fix by the fall.

But the negotiations have gotten off to a rocky start. Like some other regulatory battles that involve consumer safety, this one comes down to a sobering question: how much should manufacturers, and ultimately consumers, be required to pay to prevent the maiming or death of a child?

When I read this, I imagined that it came down to this question because the cost of making all window blinds cordless was prohibitive.  The article even states that “… cordless blinds are more difficult to manufacture than corded blinds and can cost considerably more in stores, by some estimates, twice as much.” However, when you examine further, it seems that the cost of cordless blinds might not really be much more and certainly not prohibitively expensive.

The article goes on to say that James G. Onder, a St. Louis lawyer who represents parents whose children have been injured or killed by blinds, “…said manufacturers have repeatedly testified in depositions that the additional cost of making a cordless blind is $1 to $2.” If this is accurate and cordless blinds can be made for $1-2 more per blind, then why are children dying?

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a press release in March 2011 that said that:

About half of the deaths of children who strangle in window cords have not been reported, according to an article in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association and co-authored by a staff member of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

The study found that 49 percent of the total number of window cord strangulations in the United States were not being reported to the CPSC. The study estimates that total number from 1981 to 1995 was 359. These figures mean that nearly one child is strangling in window cords every two weeks. Almost all of these deaths (93 percent) are children three years old and under.

What does it say if window blind manufacturers are selling cordless blinds for twice as much in stores, when they only cost an additional $1 or $2 additional dollars to make? What does that say about the cost of safety? What message does that send to the parents of the child who dies approximately every 2 weeks from window cord strangulation?

If the window blind manufacturers are not going to make safer blinds of their own, should they be regulated? What about the continued marketing of a product that proclaims to have safety features but is not as safe as it can be for children? Is it worth the risk?

Budget Crisis Avoided, But What About the Babies? Can They Live With $504 Million Less in Funding?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Let’s start here:  The Federal Government Shutdown has been avoided.  Federal workers and government contractors that depend on a functioning federal government can breathe a deep sigh of relief.  As the hysteria subsides and we return to business as usual, we should ask ourselves – “Are we really returning to business as usual?”  When it comes to your health and more specifically, the healthcare that you and your baby receive, the answer very well may be a resounding “NO.”

How It All Happened

I suppose I should set the stage for you, in case you missed the hand-wringing and other hysterics.  The two houses of Congress are divided.  As is par for the course, Democrats profess that one course of action is correct and Republicans declare that another course is more appropriate.  A budget needs to be in place for the government to function, yet the two political parties couldn’t come to an agreement.  A shutdown of the federal government was promised if a compromise was not reached.  The American public held its breath—or protested.  At the 11th hour, cuts were made, backroom deals were struck, and Washington spoke:  there will be $38 billion dollars trimmed from the federal budget.  On a positive note, federal agencies will remain operational until the end of September. Reason to cheer? Maybe. Before we break out the party hats and noise makers, let’s take a look at how healthcare fared.  The following areas are among those cut:

-         Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC):  $504 million

-         Community Health Centers:  $600 million

-         Substantance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration:  $45 million

-         Infectious Disease prevention:  $277 million

Total:  $1.426 Billion.  Yes, billion, with a “B”!

WIC, Babies, Community Health & Death

Women, Infants and Children, otherwise known as WIC, is a program that provides food for poor women and children up to the age of five.  WIC’s mission statement is “to safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5, who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating, and referrals to health care.” WIC gives targeted nutritional supplementation to help prevent birth defects and developmental problems caused by malnutrition.  It also provides information on healthy foods and referrals for medical care, according to the program’s website.

The WIC program gave out about $7 billion in food grants to states in 2010. There were nearly 8.9 million households receiving WIC benefits at the end of 2010, according to the Department of Agriculture. Locally, on an annual basis, Maryland WIC serves over 130,000 women, infants and children each month.  More than 151,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women, infants, and toddlers benefit from the program in Virginia.  Despite the number of women, infants and children assisted by the program, the recent budget compromise promises to slash $504 million in funding. The startling aspect is the number of women and children that are eligible but for one reason or another are not enrolled in the program. There is an estimated 43 percent of women and children, who are eligible for benefits but aren’t receiving them.  The cuts to funding will effectively foreclose their opportunity to receive benefits. At risk and in need, they will have to look elsewhere.  Sadly, many will not.

In addition to the significant cuts to WIC’s budget, the budget for community health centers would drop by about $600 million, affecting access to basic health services for approximately 5 million low-income Americans, according to the National Association for Community Health Centers. By 2015, according to NACHC, the reduction could undermine health centers’ capacity to provide services to 40 million people.

But what does it mean?

It is 2011.  My computer, cell phone and other gadgets all confirm that we are soundly within the confines of the 21st century. While we can certainly live with the fact that automobiles do not take flight a la The Jetsons, what is troubling is that we are continuing to battle fetal death in the United States.  Around 2.6 million babies are born with no signs of life after 28 weeks’ gestation – which defines a stillbirth. Undoubtedly, most of these stillbirths take place in developing countries.  Nonetheless, in the world’s wealthiest nations around 1 in every 300 babies are stillborn.  In 2005, data from the National Vital Statistics Report showed a US national average stillbirth rate of 6.2 per 1000 births. In fact, of the world’s most advanced economies, the United States has the highest infant mortality rate.  In Maryland, a preliminary report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) shows that Maryland’s infant mortality rate is 7.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births.

The major causes of stillbirths—complications during labor, maternal infections, hypertension, diabetes, and fetal growth restriction—aren’t too different from the major causes of maternal or neonatal deaths. Among the most fundamental ways to prevent stillbirths and fetal death is to improve basic and comprehensive emergency obstetric care. Providing pregnant women folic acid supplements, preventing disease, and improved detection and management of infection during pregnancy are simple ways to ensure babies are born healthy.

According to WIC, numerous studies have shown that pregnant women who participate in WIC have longer pregnancies leading to fewer premature births; have fewer low birth-weight babies; experience fewer fetal and infant deaths; seek prenatal care earlier in pregnancy and consume more of such key nutrients as iron, protein, calcium and vitamin C. That being said, the budget negotiations resulted in drastic cuts to a program effective at reducing harm to the nation’s most vulnerable?  Oh, boy.

With the exception of a short stint as a student legislator in high school and college, I do not have meaningful experience in the political arena.  I will not pretend to have significant insight into what it takes to balance a federal budget.  As a lay person, what I can do is look at the statistics and read the reports.  The numbers and reports tell me that in the 21st century America, a scary number of its children are being harmed by the preventable.  On top of that, the funding—the lifeblood—that sustains the programs aimed at reducing the problem just took a devastating blow. Will the programs designed to help our most vulnerable continue to operate? We can only hope.   At least, for the sake of the children. So please excuse me if I don’t put on my party hat and celebrate the $38 billion in budget cuts. I haven’t found a cause for celebration just yet.

Agree or disagree? That’s why the comment section is below. Let me know if you have your party shoes on.

 

Clinics and Emergency Rooms: Helpful or Barriers to Good Pediatric Care?

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Image from: denverpost.com - (Photo: istock.com | Photo illustration: Linda Shapley, The Denver Post )

In my last post, I discussed the idea of a medical home and the comprehensive healthcare it is meant to provide. For families for whom insurance, work scheduling or other demands make seeing a doctor during regular office hours difficult, many turn to retail based clinics or emergency rooms to fill-in and provide care. Whether this is in addition to or instead of a primary care provider, it is a reality that many families are using clinics and emergency rooms to fulfill at least some of their healthcare needs.

The difficulty with receiving care in these settings, as opposed to a true medical home, is that the health care providers in these settings do not have a complete medical history or record. Each time there is a problem, a different health care provider is likely to provide care and therefore, the continuity of care is lost. Moreover, if there is a bigger problem or a bigger picture issue for the patient or family, the health care provider is really not able to help make the diagnosis and assist in formulating a care plan. Recently, I have come across a number of interesting articles,which examine some of the other pitfalls of using retail clinics or emergency rooms for care, particularly for children. Their observations and opinions are well worth sharing.

In a recent blog article on kevinmd.com, Dr. Roy Benaroch discusses a variety of reasons why – for good pediatric care – you should avoid retail clinics . He highlights the potential conflicts of interest that exist when a clinic is within a store that also sells prescriptions. He defines good pediatric care as:

Care that looks at the whole child, the whole history, and the whole story. To do a good job I have to review the history, the growth charts, the prior blood pressures, the immunization records, and more. Good care means I’m available for every concern—not just the sore throat, but the “Oh, by the way…” worries that are often more significant than the current illness. Things like “He’s not doing so well in school,” or “I think he looks clumsy when he runs,” or “What am I going to do about these headaches every day?” Every encounter is a catch-up on problems and concerns from before, to be reviewed and updated. Children are growing and developing, and every encounter is a snapshot of their over all well-being that can only make sense if it can be placed into a continuous album. At the retail-based clinic, the encounters are just a quick toss-off: an opportunity for genuinely improving health that’s thrown away.

He also points out the need for providers to be specialized in pediatrics and to be up-to-date on current medical recommendations. Providers in these clinics may be generalists and not up-to-date in the specifics of care for children.

A recent article in the New York Times highlights one potential hazard for children visiting emergency rooms for care – the increased use of CT scans. The article reports that the use of CT scans for children visiting emergency rooms has increased fivefold between 1995 and 2008, such that almost six percent of children visiting the emergency room for care are now receiving the scans. There are benefits and detriments to this increase:

…advances in the technology had resulted in improved image quality that can greatly aid diagnosis of childhood ailments. But the scans expose patients to high levels of ionizing radiation that can cause cancer in later years, and radiation is even more harmful for children than for adults.

The New York Times article goes on to explain that risks are low and the patients who need the scans should receive them. However, it raises an important question in my mind.

The article states that the scans are most often given for “children arriving with head injuries, headaches or abdominal pain.” Certainly, there are plenty of times when a child may visit an emergency room for a true emergency and a CT scan, if warranted, should be done without delay. But, I wonder whether there are also situations in which a child may be visiting an emergency room because of a headache or abdominal pain, which has been persistent and would likely receive a different approach to treatment if first presenting in the child’s medical home rather than an emergency room. In that setting, would a doctor, with the child’s complete history and without other emergencies pressing, chose alternative diagnostic options before ordering a CT scan. The CT scan might still be warranted, but perhaps not as frequently. I am not a medical professional and would not question the judgment of a medical professional, but generally speaking, the value of consistency of care with a primary provider seems prudent whenever it is an available option.

From a personal perspective, I understand that even parents who are the most attuned to the desire for continuous care may waiver when faced with a child in pain during off-hours. Parents who are unable to get their child to the doctor during work hours or whose child suddenly has pain at 9 pm (or 3 am) are faced with an unfortunate decision. While I certainly would take my child to an emergency room for a true emergency, I have chosen many times to wait for our doctor’s office to open in the morning rather than take them to a 24 hour clinic for a non-emergency case of extreme ear pain or similar problem. It is horrible to wait those hours with a child in discomfort; however, I know that in the morning a doctor who has the complete history of the problem will then address the problem. Just this week, I was grateful – again- that we are lucky enough to have a primary care pediatrician, who knows our child,  is comprehensive enough to care for our children, and by seeing “the big picture” can coordinate care immediately with specialists whenever that is warranted.

To me, a physician I can trust, coupled with great practice management, is essential to a pediatric practice where I can feel comfortable taking my kids.  What are some of the things you most value? What about adult primary care providers – are you using clinics and emergency rooms for your primary care or do you have and prefer the continuity of care provided by your personal primary care physician?

4 Tips for Car Seat Safety

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Image from www.baby-safety-concerns.com

Most parents now know that car seats are essential for young children riding in cars. In today’s post, I am going to provide some updated information and lesser-known tips that might help keep your kids safer in their car seats. Does all of this matter? I think so. A recent article on healthychildren.org says that deaths in motor vehicle crashes are still the leading cause of death for young children:

While the rate of deaths in motor vehicle crashes in children under age 16 has decreased substantially – dropping 45 percent between 1997 and 2009 – it is still the leading cause of death for children ages 4 and older. Counting children and teens up to age 21, there are more than 5,000 deaths each year. Fatalities are just the tip of the iceberg; for every fatality, roughly 18 children are hospitalized and more than 400 are injured seriously enough to require medical treatment.

So how can you keep your children safer?

1. Keep Children Rear-Facing As Long As Possible

Parents often switch their toddlers into forward facing seats on or around their first birthdays. For many years, the AAP and others have recommended that children remain rear facing until they were at least 1 year old and 22 pounds. Many parents and caregivers thought that this meant that this was the appropriate age and weight to turn children around. I know plenty of parents who were elated to turn their children’s car seats around so that their kids could “see something” or so that their legs would not be cramped. Unfortunately, this is just not safe.

The new AAP recommendations, released last week, are grounded in safety research and the advice that many car seat advocates have emphasized for years. These recommendations call for children to remain rear facing as long as possible – at least until they are two years old and often beyond. A recent New York Times article explains that a 2007 study from the University of Virginia found “…that children under 2 are 75 percent less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear.” That is a pretty compelling statistic.

I am excited about this new recommendation because I hope that it will encourage parents to consider keeping their children rear facing for much longer. I have kept both of my children rear facing far beyond their first birthdays.  In fact, my two year old is still happily rear facing. We have a car seat that allows rear facing until 45 pounds and my daughter is only about 23 pounds now. I doubt that she will stay rear facing until she is 45 pounds, but she will certainly stay that way for as long as possible.

My decisions were based on both safety and selfish reasons. First, the selfish reason: my first child was a kid who would sometimes fall asleep in the car on long trips. I realized that once we faced him forward his head would hang uncomfortably if he fell asleep and he would be much less likely to rest comfortably then rear facing when he was reclined enough to slumber with full support to his head and neck. Second, the safety reason is that we have relied on the assistance and expertise of Debbi Baer when installing our car seats for several years. Ms. Baer, “a labor and delivery nurse in Baltimore who has been a car safety advocate for children for more than 30 years,” is quoted extensively in the New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/22/health/policy/22carseat.html), along with her daughter “Dr. Alisa Baer, a pediatrician at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital in New York.” Dr. Baer told the Times “she felt so strongly that if a parent wants to install a forward-facing seat for a child younger than 2, “I tell them, ‘If you really want to make a stupid decision for your child, you can do it, but I’m not going to help you.’ ”” Her mother’s attitude seems from our experience to be the same!

2. Don’t Rush Any of the Transitions – Car Seat to Booster to Seatbelt

In the The New York Times article , the AAP policy’s lead author says

“Our recommendations are meant to help parents move away from gospel-held notions that are based on a child’s age,” Dr. Durbin said. “We want them to recognize that with each transition they make, from rear-facing to forward-facing, to booster seats, there is a decline in the safety of their child. That’s why we are urging parents to delay these transitions for as long as possible.”

Therefore the same prudence should apply in making the transition from car seat to booster and ultimately to a regular seat.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has created a nice flyer about the new recommendations.

The advice seems to boil down to a few key elements.

  • Keep kids rear facing as long as allowed by the seat.
  • Forward facing children should be in a 5-point harness as long as the seat allows
  • Only transition to a belt-positioning booster when children have outgrown the car seat with a harness
  • Keep kids in a belt-positioning booster until they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall and 8-12 years old

3. Skip the Coats – Cover Kids Instead

Winter weather creates another potential danger about which many parents are unaware.  One of the keys to car seat safety is having straps that fit snuggly on the child. If kids are dressed in bulky winter clothing – particularly puffy type coats – those clothes can compress in an accident and leave the straps too loose for kids to be safety secured. To counter this dangerous possibility, most car seat experts recommend that parents always remove winter coats before strapping their children into a car seat. Instead, they recommend placing a coat or a blanket on top of the child after the child is safely and snuggly secured in the car seat. This way, the child stays warm without having any risk of the straps being too loose. If this seems to be a hassle, there is a whole group of both small and commercial companies and individuals out there who make poncho type coats that can be pulled up for the child to be strapped in safely. It is also a good idea to be in the habit of checking the snugness of the straps every time you strap your child.  For more details about winter coats in cars, check out this article.

4. Check the Installation!

All of the suggestions above are critical for safety, but none more so than making sure that your car seat is installed properly in the first place. If the car seat is not installed safely, having the child in the correct seat and having the child buckled properly will not be of nearly as much help. It is a commonly quoted statistic that 70% or more of children are not properly restrained. The good news is that help is available. At seatcheck.org you can find a listing of places near to you where you can get free or low cost assistance in properly installing your car seat. These experts can also check to make sure that the seats you have already installed are installed properly.

You may also want to watch this video from Dr. Alisa Baer, “the Car Seat Lady” -

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULJ8Vx79Vv4&feature=player_embedded

Do you have other safety tips for car seats?  If so, share them with the rest of us!

Decreasing Obesity Risks in Children: Another Benefit of Breastfeeding

Friday, March 25th, 2011

Image from fooducate.com

In the United States today, one of the major health problems is obesity. The CDC reports that “[i]n 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.”  The number of both adults and children who are obese is huge and continues to rise dramatically.  The CDC website provides maps that show just how prevalent this problem is in our country. Particularly troubling is that “[t]hirty-three states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; nine of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and West Virginia) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%).  This represents an enormous number of people in our country who are at risk for major health complications, such as “cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.”

While there has been an emphasis in our country on various ways to decrease these obesity statistics (including improving nutrition and increasing exercise), I wonder whether additional emphasis should be paid to children being given a great start to health. A recent article in the Baltimore Sun caught my attention. The article explains how diabetic moms, including those who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy but are not otherwise diabetic, are both more likely to give birth to a larger than average baby and also how their child is “more likely to become obese in childhood.”  The good news, the article explains, is that:

…a new study says that if you breastfeed your baby for at least six months, your child will be no more likely to put on weight than those whose moms are not diabetic.

This is just one more example of how breastfeeding for at least six months can dramatically improve your child’s chances of lifelong health.  Through breastfeeding alone, these moms can erase the increased risk that these children will become obese.

What they found appears to be a real advantage for breastfeeding: If the babies had been breastfed for six months or more, children born to diabetic moms looked nearly the same as the children of non-diabetic moms. And they were no more likely to be obese.

On the other hand, children who were breastfed for less than six months — and who had been exposed to diabetes in the womb — had significantly higher BMIs, thicker waists and stored more fat around their midsections than the other children in the study.

While I was excited to read about one more reason to support breastfeeding, I was concerned about whether this is a realistic choice for many families in our country.  Many moms who are committed to breastfeeding their children and who are successful at the start, do not continue breastfeeding for at least six months. The CDC Breastfeeding Report Card for 2010 says that “…3 out of every 4 new mothers in the United States now starts out breastfeeding… However, rates of breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months as well as rates of exclusive breastfeeding at 3 and 6 months remain stagnant and low.”  The national average is that while 75% of moms have breastfed, only 43% are breastfeeding at all at 6 months and only a mere 13.3% are exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months.  At 3 months, a time when infants would not have started solid food, only 33% of moms are still exclusively breastfeeding.  This means that there is a large drop off from what moms do when their babies are born and what they are doing by the time their babies reach 3 months.

However, the study about diabetes found that at least six months of breastfeeding was essential in protecting these kids from the increased risks of obesity. From both personal experience and anecdotal evidence, I suspect that many families are facing hard decisions about employment and breastfeeding. I suspect that a significant part of the large drop off between the numbers of moms’ breastfeeding at birth and those breastfeeding exclusively at 3 months has to do with employment. Given that the US lags so far behind other countries in paid parental leave, most moms have no choice but to go back to work full-time by the time their infants are 3 months (if not earlier).  Many moms face no choice at that point but to stop or severely limit breastfeeding, as few employers offer the time, space or scheduling to truly make moms successful at the difficult job of trying to pump while working.

I believe that the health care costs of treating individuals with obesity and all of the associated health problems should be examined against the costs of providing more complete support to new families.  What do you think?  Could employers better support breastfeeding in an attempt to increase the number of healthy children whose risks of obesity are lowered? Do you think that lack of paid leave or increased support in the workplace for breastfeeding is really the reason for decreased breastfeeding or are there other factors at play?